EPA, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County Applaud Efforts to Resolve Sewage Woes

Feb. 23, 2004

Local governments in the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) service area received special recognition today for participating in a regional effort to clean up the discharge of billions of gallons of sewage into Western Pennsylvania waterways.

"Today marks an important first step towards improved water quality. However, it is only a first step, and the challenges ahead will require a continued collaborative effort with partnerships of federal, state, county and local governments," said Donald S. Welsh, regional administrator for EPA's mid-Atlantic region.

"Not only will these efforts help to protect the environment and keep residents healthy, but they also will help to fuel the economy. The cooperation among agencies and municipalities was invaluable to helping us settle some very technical and complicated issues," said Kathleen A. McGinty, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

By signing agreements with local regulators — the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection — municipalities agree to maintain sewers and take the first steps toward a massive project to control sewer overflows in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Under the agreement, each municipality will inspect its sewage collection system and repair deficiencies identified through the inspection. The municipality will also monitor the flow in the sewers, eliminate sources of excessive storm water inflow, and work with ALCOSAN and the other municipalities/sewer authorities in their drainage basins to identify controls needed to bring their wastewater collection system into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Each year, an estimated 16 billion gallons of raw sewage are discharged from hundreds of outfalls in the region's sewage collection system into Pittsburgh area waterways. These overflows usually result from storm water infiltrating sanitary sewers or from combined sewers that handle both rain runoff and household sewage. Overflows into stream and rivers occur during wet weather because the amount of storm water flow within the system during storms exceeds the designed capacity for wastewater treatment.

Discharges carry dangerous bacteria into waterways where people boat, swim and wade, and from which a large portion of the region's drinking water is drawn. The federal Clean Water Act prohibits such discharges unless they are in compliance with the terms of a permit, including water quality requirements. Thus, in addition to impacting the quality of life in the Allegheny County region, these discharges are illegal.

The use of consent agreements with local municipalities was a strategy developed by EPA, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department and coordinated by the Three Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Project. Its objective is to focus attention on the overflow problem and take practical first steps to solve it.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).
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